Why developing new journalism talent is so important for the media
In Evelyn Waugh’s must-read 1938 satirical account of journalism Scoop, Daily Beast boss Lord Copper sends reporter Mr Boot to cover the fictitious Ishmaelite crisis in East Africa as his newspaper’s war correspondent.
The only problem was that Lord Copper picked the wrong Boot – instead of the seasoned foreign correspondent and novelist John Boot, the Ishmaelite assignment falls by administrative blunder to horticultural columnist William Boot, much to the amazement of both Boots.
Not that facts got in the way of covering the Ishmaelite crisis, as Boot the Gardener soon learned, along with receiving these words of advice from a rival war correspondent: “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it.”
Scoop is a hilarious book, although at times also sobering because it contains as many home truths about journalism as the ABC comedy series Frontline presented in the 1990s – in the same vein that the ABC’s current series Utopia is both a comedy and a documentary about the public service.
Yet seen through the lens of 2019, Waugh’s 1938 tome makes an important and enduring point: journalism is not fiction.
In today’s world, where everyone has an opinion and a vehicle to share it, it is ironically #FakeNews that has captured better than any other tagline an emerging trend of consumers returning to real and reliable journalism. And by that I mean journalism based on facts, explained with context and delivered on time.
Journalism is a profession that requires skills taught and skills acquired. It doesn’t matter what medium the journalism is presented on or through, it is sought after and it is as important in and to today’s world as it was in Waugh’s era.
While opinion may win in the Twitter war of clickbait, it is real journalism that makes a difference to our lives. It is why a good journalist can have such a profound impact on the community in which they operate and be highly sought after for intelligent, value-adding and ethical reporting of what is happening in our world.
Too often public debate gets bogged down in forecasting the imminent death of a particular medium and commemorating a more glorious past. We risk alienating the next generation of wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins – and we shouldn’t.
Public demand to know the what, who, where, how and why remains strong. And that should serve as encouragement for the next wave of journalists to pursue their dream of investigating how the world works.
It was my dream when I took up my first job in journalism as a reporter at the Kalgoorlie Miner in 1994. And it was a dream that sustained me as I moved to bigger and more prominent titles over the ensuing 20 years. At each stage of my journalistic career there were challenges – organisational and internal as well as industry and structural – but they failed to dampen my thirst for news and reporting.
Alongside the challenges, there were common denominators for success. Ask the right questions so you understand what you are writing about. Ask to get it right. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask all sides.
And, as one of my early bosses was fond of saying (though I doubt it was actually his saying) – “if in doubt, check it out. If still in doubt, leave it out.”
I would ask the seasoned journalists sitting next to me about the highs and lows of their careers. I took on board their advice and feedback. I realised that the art of tight writing is an art indeed, and worth learning.
The way we digest journalism has changed but the underlying tenet of the craft has not. Newsrooms – or whatever you want to call today’s versions – will continue to rely on a generation of journalists who are not afraid to ask the right questions and explain the world to their readers, viewers and listeners.
If you have an inquisitive mind and persistence, journalism wants you. No, journalism needs you.
We all have an opinion. But few of us have the drive and the opportunity to find out what really is happening in our world, and the ability to share the news with the rest of us.
Now, more than ever, we need informed public debate and fearless journalists.
Peter Klinger, Cannings Purple’s Director of Media Strategy, spent more than 20 years in daily journalism, working for the Kalgoorlie Miner, The West Australian, Australian Financial Review and The Times (London). In 1995 at the WA Media Awards, Peter received the Eaves-Prior-Day Prize for best cadet or new journalist.
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